What in the heck was this? So I’m watching ‘Lost in Space’ the other day… the TV show that is, not that bastardization of a movie… and my main man Dr. Zachary Smith is bitching at Will Robinson about something or another and then closes his bitch fest with the statement, as only the late Jonathan Harris could deliver it ‘The proverbial sound and fury signifying nothing’. Damn if Dr. Smith didn’t just sum up in a few words this high concept, low execution sci-fi horror movie ‘Pandorum’.
It is a couple of hundred years into the future and the Earth’s population has swelled to well over twenty billion plus. We can barely support six billion today so imagine the stress that twenty billion would place on the planet’s limited resources. That’s the bad news. The good news is our space faring future fathers have located a planet capable of sustaining human life and that’s where the good ship Elysian comes in as it is, I believe, the first of many Noah’s Arc type vessels to repopulate this brand new planet with glorious human life forms.
At least in theory anyways. When Corporal Bower (Ben Foster), one of the ships technicians, wakes up out his deep cryogenic sleep he is dazed and confused and finds his ship in a complete state of disrepair. He is soon joined by newly awakened Lt. Payton (Dennis Quaid) who quickly assumes command of the situation and dispatches Bower to stop the impending shutdown of the ships nuclear reactor. The thing is this ship is about the size of Texas and Bower, along with his fractured memory, has to make it from one side of the ship to the other with the clock steadily ticking downward. Wouldn’t you know that’s the easy part?
Along the way Bower runs into some warrior woman who attacks him, warns him to be quiet and then flees in terror. What is she running from? Some cannibalistic mutated zombie style invincible beastie types, with knives for spinal columns, who will eat their brother just as soon as they would eat you. Turns out this woman, Nadia (Antje Traue), is some kind of Geneticist or something on the ship and his been surviving these beasts and other warring humans for a few months now while Bower was
snoozing away. One of these folks she was battling is some cat named Manh (Cung Le) who I’m guessing was the ships Master Kung Fu Instructor. Eventually Bower convinces everybody to make nice and assist him in finding this nuclear reactor while avoiding these cannibalistic humanoid mutants. Lt. Payton, who is remotely assisting Bower, has his own visitor in the skittish corporal Gallo (Cam Gigandet) who might be suffering from the dreaded disease… Pandourm.
Things go from bad to worse for our crew as the cannibalistic zombie humanoids are everywhere, the few ‘normal’ humans they run into aren’t doing anybody any favors, the clock is ticking for this ship to completely shut down and not everybody is who they appear to be.
About a month ago I saw the movie ‘Blade Runner’ again, and believe me I’m not comparing the two but watching the Ridley Scott classic again many years later taught me something. Because of how richly detailed the sets and the production was in Blade Runner, Scott sacrificed action for immersion for a film that allowed the audience to absorb themselves into this futuristic world that the designers had painstakingly created. This movie really could’ve taken just page or two out of that manual and used it as its own. Just watching this movie it seemed that a lot effort went into creating the large labyrinthine ship in that it almost becomes a living breathing character, but director Christian Alvart never allows the audience to take any of it in. The camera jumps and moves and darts and rotates and spins in just one long constant flow hectic stimuli. Bring it down baby so I can enjoy your movie. And when the Zombie cannibal freaks show up it only gets worse because now, in addition to the frenetic camera movement, the shutter speed is amped to the max which makes it almost impossible to make heads or tails what’s going on in front of us… but I know it must be exciting because the camera is jumping all over the place and the music is blasting. Too bad I can’t see all this fabulous action, or get good a good look at these horrific monsters that somebody worked all day on designing in this alleged visual medium.
That’s the core of what is wrong with ‘Pandorum’, a movie that does have nice elements working in its favor such as the previously mentioned high concept sci-fi narrative driving the story, a very good and intense performance turned in by Ben Foster and some decent twists and turns built into this narrative which at least keeps the movie from being predictable. Unfortunately the narrative is told in incomplete fragments so one is relatively dumfounded about what is happening while the movie is playing, with the apparent cure for this being the action and horror elements tiding you over until all is adequately explained. Unfortunately, like we said earlier, the action is unbridled and out of control thus rendering it all but ineffective which leaves us the horror elements. Great atmosphere, poor execution yet again. Fright happens when you get hit with the unexpected. When you see a character close up in the dark, and the constant music stops and the consistently noisy ship all the sudden stops being noisy… we know something’s about to jump out of the dark… and there it goes. Ineffective.
More than anything ‘Pandorum’ ended up being a disappointment. From the concept to the set design to some fine performances from most of the cast, the ingredients were there for damn good movie but the director didn’t trust his story enough to allow it to simply unfold before us and instead had to show us ‘what he can do’. Disappointing.